Most Americans grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in our schools, probably without giving much thought to the words we were saying. Hand on heart, in unison with our classmates, we formed our earliest memories of how we understand our nation and our place in it as individuals.
As we became adults, we learned of controversies surrounding the Pledge. Should schools require the children to stand and recite the Pledge? Do the words “under God” still belong? Many questions have arisen around the Pledge of Allegiance in our culture.
But the question that we are exploring today is: Should Christians pledge allegiance to the flag? So let’s move beyond the cultural debate and examine the Biblical case for understanding why Christians should not recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Understanding the Cultural Questions
In the twenty-first century, Americans have experienced a growing national discourse surrounding historic practices of slavery, equity in our modern justice system, and related societal issues. And it is important for Christians to engage in these discussions and discern where justice is needed.
After all, the Bible instructs us “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). Accordingly, an increasing number of Americans, both Christians and those outside the church, question the accuracy of the Pledge’s claim of liberty and justice for all.
Still, others desire to unite people of different backgrounds and experiences through shared expressions of national pride and identity, such as the Pledge of Allegiance. Advocates of the Pledge contend that it is a statement of respect and commitment not only to the nation but to each other as we work together to be good citizens and make America the best that it can be.
Christians in this camp cite Paul’s instructions to “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…” (Titus 3:1) as a command to be obedient citizens. Even Jesus, the argument goes, advocated submission to earthly authority when he said, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
We encounter well-meaning and sincere convictions on both sides of the cultural debate. Justice and mercy. Lawfulness and duty. And we are left to wonder; can we be good law-abiding citizens who also advocate for justice, and if so, is under the same Pledge?
When we recite the Pledge, are we stating our collective commitment to a just and orderly society, or is there another aspect to the Pledge that we have not even considered? Let’s examine the words more closely.
Examining the Biblical Questions
The cultural debate rests on the shifting sands of changing societal norms and generational experiences. It is inherently temporal, especially in a country that is less than three centuries old. Furthermore, the Pledge itself is little more than a century old.
And so we set aside the debate over whether the Pledge accurately depicts America as we know it now. Instead, we turn our focus on the explicit promise contained in the Pledge and examine it in light of the timeless truth of scripture. To do this, we must define the words ‘pledge’ and ‘allegiance.’
What is Our Pledge?
‘To pledge’, according to the dictionary, is to ‘commit by solemn promise’. In some contexts, such as pledging collateral for a loan, a pledge is legally binding. We are to take our promises seriously.
Scripture reminds us that a pledge is weighty and should not be considered lightly, “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” (Numbers 30:2).
Jesus further emphasizes this instruction to take our promises seriously. He warns against flippant oaths in Matthew 5:33-37, concluding with, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’…” (Matthew 5:37). So when we make a pledge of any kind, we should treat it as a statement of deep commitment, a promise to be kept, even if it is not backed up by a legal document.
Where is Our Allegiance?
The dictionary defines allegiance as ‘loyalty or commitment of a subordinate to a superior or of an individual to a group or cause.’ This is related to the archaic English root word ‘liege,’ meaning lord or king.
So who then, has the right to be our liege, our king, and our lord? Who is entitled to our pledge of loyalty? Again setting aside the cultural debate about the merits of twenty-first-century America, we are forced by such questions to consider how we should relate to earthly kingdoms and systems of any kind.
As Christians, we confess that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), that he is King of Kings (Revelation 17:14), and that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [him].” (Matthew 28:18). As John the Baptist testified, “The one who comes from above is above all,” (John 3:31), we also understand Jesus’ kingship and authority as superior to all other rulers and kings.
When the first century Christians declared that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ the statement equally implied that Caesar was not, and could not ever be, Lord (despite Caesar’s own claim to be lord). And as Jesus plainly declared to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world,” (John 18:36), we Christians are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
We live in the world as foreigners, strangers, and aliens (Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 2:11). Jesus himself said to his disciples “you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” (John 15:19). This is the reality of our citizenship as Christians. No earthly kingdom, around the globe or throughout history, can ever be our true home or worthy of our allegiance.
How then, do we “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s?” The context of Jesus’ statement provides an answer. In response to a question about paying taxes to Rome, Jesus pointed out Caesar’s image on a coin and made this declaration.
The things of this world belong to the kings of this world. The coinage, and even the laws, are made bearing the image and name of Caesar. And so we give back to Caesar through the taxes, the laws, and the order that govern our societies.
But you and I are the image-bearers of God, our Creator (Genesis 1:27). And Christ, through the Spirit has written name on our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3).
So to give back to God what is God’s requires that we give Him our whole selves; our hearts, our minds, our lives. And so our allegiance; the loyalty of our hearts and the commitment of our lives, belongs not to any nation, king, or flag found on earth, but to God, and God alone.